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Youngstown vs. Lincoln Stars, 3/23

Lincoln goalie Tomas Vomacka dives to smother a puck in front of Youngstown's Nicholas Cardelli (86) in the third period on Friday at the Ice Box.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

With a weekend sweep of the Fargo Force and a loss in regulation by the Sioux City Musketeers, the Lincoln Stars will clinch a USHL Western Conference playoff berth for the 17th time in their 22-year history.

The Tri-City Storm and Sioux City are also in playoff contention after Des Moines was eliminated last week. Fargo, Waterloo, Omaha and Sioux Falls have all clinched spots.

There is more than just a playoff berth at stake for the Stars, who are still jockeying for position in the Western Conference.

Lincoln, which is in position for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, is tied with Tri-City with 62 points, but the Storm hold the tiebreaker in regulation-overtime wins with 26. Lincoln has 24, and play the Storm three more times to help close out the regular season. The Stars also hold an 11-point lead over the Musketeers, who have eight games remaining to Lincoln's seven.

"We want to be in the best position as a hockey team once we get to the playoffs," Stars' general manager Jon Hull said. "After that it's a day-by-day approach with an ultimate goal in mind."

Lincoln (30-21-1-1) last made the playoffs in the 2015-16 season, losing to the Waterloo Black Hawks in the first round. To clinch a playoff berth this weekend, the Stars will have to get past the Force, who sit atop the Western Conference standings.

The Stars have twice defeated the Force this season, both at the Ice Box, with Friday and Saturday's contests coming in Fargo, North Dakota, to close out the season series.

"We need to focus on getting better, work every day and hold guys accountable. We play in a really tough league and a tough conference with no margin for error," Hull said.

Lincoln and Fargo are set to square off at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Briefly

* Former Lincoln Star defenseman Trevor Hamilton inked a one-year deal Thursday with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League for the 2018-19 season. Grand Rapids is an affiliate of the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

The Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, native is coming off an award-filled senior season with Penn State, earning Big Ten defenseman of the year and was a first team All-Big Ten honors. Hamilton set a Penn State defenseman single-season record with 23 assists in 2017-18 and with six goals was one point shy of the single-season record for points in a season from a blue-liner. The former Star also led the NCAA in blocked shots two seasons in a row and holds the career mark at Penn State with a total of 216.

* Josiah Slavin announced Thursday morning he is committing to Colorado College for the 2019-20 season. The Lincoln forward has 18 goals and 18 assists in 53 games played this season.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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